A journalist discusses sex and the Tibetan Book of the Dead for the Laissez Faire Times...
"The Dalai Lama told the experts, 'There are four ordinary occasions when a very gross form of clear light arises: at the moments of yawning, sneezing, falling asleep, and orgasm.'
"'Orgasm is the strongest of the four ordinary occasions in which clear light appears, and so it is used in meditation to extend the experience of the emergence of clear light, to clarify the experience and make it more vivid.'"
... and then proceeds to provide a first hand account of a Tibetan 'sky funeral':
"During Tibetan sky funerals on Lhasa's northern edge, machete-wielding undertakers -- sometimes drunk on Tibetan 'chang' beer to numb the horror -- chop dead people into mince-meat.
"The ceremony displays the bloody messiness of a slaughterhouse, outdoors atop a large flat boulder behind Sera Monastery.
"Ropes are tied to corpses' necks and knotted around big rocks, to prevent the bodies sliding off the blood-wet boulder.
"The undertakers also hammer the corpses' bones, and mix the powdered bones with human meat, so nothing is left after the vultures eat.
"To ensure a delicious feast, undertakers add "tsampa" barley and yak butter to flavor the diced dead."
Since Monday I've been hanging out as the 'coughing' tutor at the Rotterdam Film Festival Masterclass. Today is day three of this educational event, and, as is often my experience in this sort of situation, I'm learning (or 'adapting') more than I'm 'teaching', especially from the mass market and industry gurus (who are arguably dealing in more evil plagues than the flu). Yesterday's guest was Dave Collier. Today's guest is Michael Nash.
Why not think of learning as a form of immunology?
The medieval solution: Wear a bird mask and surround yourself with fresh cut flowers.
This morning I received the the following mail from someone named 'Tom'. The implications of such 'public service viruses' (and the opportunities open to public service advocates such as environmental agencies, human rights groups and other NGO's) appear (to me) to be awesome.
"On December 30, 1999, Lauria Jaylene Bible and her friend, Ashley Renae Freeman, were reported to be missing.
"At approximately 6:00 a.m., a fire was reported at a residence located four and one half miles west of Welch, Oklahoma, in northeast Oklahoma. The bodies of Ashley's parents, both of whom had been shot, were found inside the residence. The two girls, both age 16, were reported to be inside the residence before the fire, but have not been located.
"A $3,000 Dollar reward has been placed for information in this case. For more information please go to http://www.Cash4Crooks.com
"Please forward this message to everyone you know!
"This is a public service message from Cash4Crooks.com.
"Let's put the Net to work and find these girls!"
End of the masterclass.
Internet and Television
The purpose of the Rotterdam Film Festival Masterclass is to encourage the development of (culturally interesting) projects that span both television and the internet. While a worthwhile goal, in practice this turns out to be much more challenging than you would think, especially when everyone holds on too tightly to their ideas of internet content and television content and the difference between the two.
What do we assume about television and the net? What do these 'extensions of our senses' tell us about our own minds and bodies?
As Michael Nash suggested in his talk this week, to traverse the net is to experience 'a personal present in a connected framework' whereas to watch television is to engage 'a synchronized belief in the commonality of all human experience.' In other words, television can be thought of as the believer's prosthetic crowd, at its best producing the experience of Darshan (the mystical experience of being in very large crowds) while the 'connected framework' of the net can be thought of as the user's prosthetic 'hunting ground,' affording a universe of possible sites and situations for the user (as hero or heroine) to act and be present.
Separating the 'crowd experience' from our notion of television and the 'heroine traversing her hunting ground' from our notion of the net can also be fruitful. We can portray the two experiences as part of a continuum of choices:
and see that neither 'crowds - communities' nor 'personal hunting grounds' are exclusive either to the net or (the future) of television but may be developed across both.
Another issue for this year's masterclass has been 'content.' To what degree are today's developers concerned with content? Is content dead? Michael Nash mentioned that the music industry is starting to give up on the idea of being able to make money selling music -- and instead focusing on recording what people take for free, i.e. making money by building and selling user profiles. Content (music) in such a market will be simply bait to get information about the consumer. This is not a pretty picture for the content producer.
On the other hand, the content producer is also suffering from the emergence of a growing audience which takes its pleasure not so much content but in form and its analysis. This is the collector's market, the market of experts, the market of re-runs and meta-messages. It is reflected in the difference between playing a game and playing a game in order to understand the system. Both provide pleasure but the experience of pleasure is different. Thus we can imagine another continuum of choices open to developers independent of television and the net:
where the product or project is situated somewhere between being a system in which pleasure is derived from analysis of its form and the more traditional immersive 'content' of a dream.
Conclusion: Television and the net as technological media afford us different experiences. At the same time our images and experiences of these media definitely constrain our imaginations when we try to consider new 'products' for them. Perhaps it is better therefore to put these images out of our mind and use other examples (and metaphors) from our experience as our maps and thinking tools.
Today JK is on his way to India via Paris and Peter is visiting New York. Tomorrow Jessamyn trades Seattle for her barn in Vermont. Yesterday both Cameron and Judith spent their last day at their old jobs and I noticed that Aaron has left his basement in Martha's Vineyard and moved back to Montreal.
Vernadsky's second biogeochemical principle: the rate movement (of people and matter) is increasing dramatically as we move forward in evolutionary time. If you are interested in this you may want to look at Dorion Sagan's thoughts on Vernadsky, geological 'speed up' and 'flying mountains of material' cited in a set of notes for a Parking Lot Garden that I developed in 1997. (See specifically note 39 and note 40.)
John Allen on testing Vernadsky's theories.
Why Potlatch? from Potlatch.net:
"Throughout human history, society has known only two basic forms for the circulation of goods and services: the market (money) economy that we are familiar with, and the gift economy of ancient and modern tribal societies. The key to the success of this earlier and once ubiquitious form was that the entire social life of the tribe was encapsulated in the exchange of gifts, and that this exchange, while on the surface a voluntary act, was in fact obligatory. That is, each individual's status within the community was entirely dependant on their ability to return gifts of equal or greater value, at a future time, for each gift recieved. Failure to reciprocate these gifts could lead to banishment or other serious consequences."
Added to the list of books that I want to read soon: Lewis Hyde's The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property.
Bad Years for the Flu
How bad is this winter's flu epidemic? Here's a mortality graph which depicts the seasonal cycle for 122 U.S. cities. The last couple of weeks show a definite upswing.
FYI: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 20,000 people die on average each year from influenza.
A friend sent me 'When Things Fall Apart' by Pema Chödrön the other day. An elegant book with a simple message, namely: 'Shit happens and when it happens to you, you should consider yourself fortunate. You are in an ideal situation.'
"The very first noble truth of the Buddha points out that suffering is inevitable for human beings as long as we believe that things last--that they don't disintegrate, that they can be counted on to satisfy our hunger for security.
"From this point of view, the only time that we ever know what's really going on is when the rug's been pulled out and we can't find anywhere to land."
Pema Chödrön is the resident teacher at Gampo Abbey a Buddhist monastery in Nova Scotia.
Yesterday was one of those wonderful days when 'everything and nothing' agrees to come together for a few hours and then proceeds to create vistas heretofore unknown. This morning I went poetry hunting to commemorate the bittersweet and crazy 'knowing and unknowing' in which we together floated (again in the zoo) and ended up choosing 'The Whale in the Blue Washing Machine' by John Haines.
The Whale in the Blue Washing Machine
There are depths even in a household
His warm bulk swims from room
He comes to the surface hungry,
His pulsebeat sounds at night
Alone in the kitchen darkness,
watching and listening
-- John Haines
Part of my attraction to this poem is due to the image of 'the depths even in a household' and then too I'm attracted to its resemblance to a story that I loved as a child--the one where a whale lived (and was constantly spouting) in a teacup. Anyone remember that book?
(I've searched for 'A Whale in a Teacup' online over the years but never been able to find it. Advanced Book Exchange currently lists a book called 'The Teacup Whale' by Lydia Gibson published in New York by Farrar and Reinhart in 1934 but I'm not sure that it is the same book. It seems at least 30 years too old. If you know better please let me know.)
Buddhist whaling: curiosity about life means at times slowing down and examining the spaces that we normally pass over quickly in our eagerness to get somewhere else.
Jonah and the Whale, a year ago today on Alamut.
Solitude as Strategy, on bobcats and their lonely habits (21 Februrary 1999).
Free Agent Nation State
"India has a workforce that is 92.4% self employed."
Which means at least 924 million 'free agents' and a 'free agent nation' that is 37 times bigger than the 'free agent nation' that we usually think about when we use the term. (Which one is real? Who said 'Die Yuppie Scum'?)
A Game about Changing the Rules
You are Invited to Play: David Chess is the scribe for The Curvature of the Earth is Overwhelmed by Local Noise Nomic.
I Have Been Meaning to Link to Subterranean Notes: Dirk Hine's excellent weblog. Be sure to scroll down his current page for details of the mysterious recluse Henry Darger and his 19,000 page novel, 'The story of the Vivian Girls, in what is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion.'
Still true: 'Change is a puppy born into the lap of truth.'
Epic vs. Ephemeral
"#4. The net allows for the production of epic work. Brecht talked about epic theater which was a challenge to conventional notions theater, to the notion of theater as a commodified spectacle. Theater that actually related to the direct lives of people, with all the attendant boredom, the interstitial space between things happening in life. Art has always been about compression, always within a confined space of materiality, despite the large-scale possibilities. The real scale is day-to-day life. It's artists who began to blur that line, artists beginning with Duchamp and on to Fluxus and others. Those artists finally found a medium where they could work unfiltered. That can take place within an economy of abundance, can make epic work possible..."
I agree with Ross that the net, in its 'economy of abundance,' affords works of epic proportions -- just as I agree that it affords the possibility of what he calls 'ephemeral works' (listed as #5, the opposite of epic works). In fact last April I wrote a note about this called Beauty and the Sublime that connected the (sexual) pleasures of the very large and the very small (or the very long and the very short) to the pleasures of masochism and sadism.
Epic works provide us pleasure by making (or helping) us feel humble.
Why not consider epic works that are even larger than Brecht's 'day-to-day' life, larger (and longer) than our single human life-spans? Epic works that incorporate our family histories and the history of our tribes and subcultures? Eastern theater already contains many such epic works and so will the net one day. Why don't we start making 'deep space' and 'deep time' now?
Be My Ghost
"Q: The idea of the reader/writer blurring, continuum, "wreader", another way of thinking of it is host, guest, non-guest continuum, twisting the roles: host invites in the guest and a non-guest, uninvited, comes in--in the form of a hacker or an error.
"A: I love the fact that you call it a three-prong thing because it's absolutely right. I'm going to give you a quote that you're going to love. Marcel Duchamp, 1943, invitation to an exhibition at the William Copely Gallery in Los Angeles. The invitation said, "Be my guest, be my host, be my ghost." And so it's the ghost that's the third part. Odd conflation of identities. I do think that's an important thing. From Duchamp's perspective, it has a sexual metaphor and the notion of the kind of blurring of male and female relationships and in the actual interaction of male and female bodies in sexual union. For him all of that kind of action had a wonderful sexual component."
This is so beautiful. This is why I love art.
On Tuesday I was invited as a consultant to attend a brainstorming session of the Strategic Planning department of XYZ, the biggest Dutch telecommunications provider. XYZ has a problem. Their market is changing fast, it doesn't look like they will be able to continue to make money where they used to make money thus they have to decide soon where they are going to make their money in the future. Since the liberalisation of the Dutch market there is no money in trying to control frequency space, or in providing access to the consumer market. And it seems a foregone conclusion that there is no money to be made by providing content (at least not enough money to pay a dividend to the shareholders.)
If there is no money to be made in the consumer market perhaps the answer is to create a new business model for providing business-to-business services? It would appear, however, that within the telecommunications market the boundary between businesses (hosts) and consumers (guests) is also changing -- guests are becoming hosts and hosts are turning into guests -- too quickly for XYZ to effectively model or build a business on.
So what's left? Well how about Duchamp's third part or party? What about thinking about the future conditions and needs of the ghost? What is it? Where does it come from? What does it want?
Heard and understood: Sex is very simple -- especially when the partners provide each other with honest feedback. Intellectual sex, seen from this perspective, seems unnecessarily complicated and in fact, almost oxymoronic, a contradiction in terms.
Note to myself: I want my notebook back...
Net Art and Real Artists
A journalist called yesterday to ask me about 'Net Art.' I found this a remarkable coincidence as I had just finished uploading yesterday's entry -- and as chance would have it, it was about this very subject. At the moment of her call I had a visitor (with whom, believe it or not, I was discussing hermeneutics) so I suggested the journalist follow the link contained in yesterday's entry and call back later. When she did her first comment was to express her surprise that Alamut contained 'so many words'...
Ha! I thought, what a funny thing for a journalist to say! But then I realised that the journalist was calling an artist. And artists, as you know, are expected to communicate visually -- even when they communicate via the net.
Which is to say that Real Artists communicate visually. Conceptually minded agents such as Joseph Kosuth or Lawrence Weiner (who I once watched make a piece using the phrase, "An apple is an apple because inside the apple the word 'apple' is written.") are not real artists but imposters.
"... But on the whole I haven't written as much about visual arts simply because it seems to me that to be a great artist is a kind of natural talent that doesn't require the kind of obsession with ideas that interests me so much. I have known a few painters who have been interested in ideas, but if anything it's weakened their work."
Fred Pyen's big page of Net Art links.
A book by a journalist imposter: Black Like Me
Tibetan Game Design
From Charles Cameron's 'Games Lamas Play':
"The idea is that with meditative practice, you will be able to hold - in the mind's eye - a complex three dimensional architectural structure - so that you can pass through it in imagination, visiting now this 'room', now the next, encountering a preset variety of, well, 'demons', 'wrathful' and 'peaceful deities'.
"There are all sorts of objects decorating the rooms you visit: plates and goblets, food and drink, bells, flags, flowers, jewels, daggers, skulls. And take a look at the 'phurba' dagger, with its three angled blade: that's a curious piece of weaponry. Look again: that trumpet was hollowed out of a human femur, that drum was made of a couple of human skulls joined back to back.
"I'm describing an advanced mandala-based meditation in Tibetan Buddhism here - but I could almost be describing a game design."
Weblog as a Live Minefield
I've just finished an update of my Past Attention page. This meant re-reading a lot of old Alamut and writing a summary for each of the last 9 months (a task that I stopped doing 9 months ago) as well as inserting a link to each summarized note beginning with my first entry in March 1998 and continuing to the present day.
The result is a better overview of the last two years, more convienient to browse but much slower to load because of the large number of links and the organization of the information into tables. Sorry about the slowness. You can't have everything, can you?
Personally, I found doing the update and getting a bird's eye view of Alamut to be very educational. I was surprised how quickly I had forgotten many of the things that have, even recently, appeared in this space. By refreshing my memory (the Kayapo Indians call this process 'rubbing our culture back into ourselves') I began to recognize many recurring themes and even at times got a glimpse of a 'deeper' structure behind Alamut's apparent eclecticism.
Alamut is a personal memory machine. At this moment, I find that some of its memories, when played back, are useful. Others are not. Some have become humorous and some (especially those referring to L.) have become somewhat painful. Reading a memory machine (or a weblog) is ideally a live event, like the reunion of a rock band, with the reader, the writer and the ghost all present and performing once again in real time. To paraphrase David Chess who today on his own weblog paraphrases the poet Archibald MacLeish, "a memory machine should not mean but be." (Thank you for this David.)
An August 1999 link: Warhol's marriage to his first tape recorder.
Have you ever noticed how...
...in the physical world people are either present or absent, but not both? And that you, as a physical person, have the choice between being either here or there? And if you are not here or there, and you have chosen not to stay in touch with those that are either here or there, that you are absent?
In other words, in the physical world the choice is yours about whether or not to be present or absent. You control this. You decide if you want to be absent from someone or some place or some group. If you want to be absent you simply remove yourself from their locality. You are still present but not for the people or place in question.
Have you ever noticed how maintaining a web presence makes this sort of thing impossible? With a web site the only way be absent from the people or places you wish to avoid (ex-job, ex-friends, creditors, the taxman...) is take down your site. Absence on the web is different from absence in the physical world. It is not something you can selectively control. In order to become absent you have to relinquish your presence entirely.
Conclusion: Maintaining a web presence means that absence is no longer possible.
David Brin's The Transparent Society.
Alamut (11.06.98): How to Disappear Completely and Never be Found.
Alamut (11.06.99): Harry Houdini (escape artist).
Update: Jouke, logging in this morning from a cybercafe in Ahmedabad, India, views the foregoing from a different perspective.
Valentines Day Maitri
Maitri is a Sanskrit word which can be translated as 'unconditional-friendliness.' It's also a word that is used a lot by Buddhists. The strange thing about maitri is that you need to feel this 'unconditional-friendliness' towards yourself before you can express it towards someone else. Cultivating personal maitri is an essential part of a buddhist practice -- but it is also something that is not at all obvious or easy to do. In fact it is damned difficult.
The past couple of days I've been wondering about whether or not I should send an 'unconditional' valentine to someone I care about. I have never 'done' valentines before but this year is special. So I thought about it and thought about what to send and made a couple with messages that I thought were pretty good. However as I finished each one it seemed to be saying more to me than to the person I wanted to send it to and I realised that I was the one (of the two of us) that needed it the most. This was not what I intended. And it is not easy to accept. The keyword here is 'unconditional.'
How many people can give themselves a valentine on Valentines day?
Okay, enough. It's complicated, and I'm leaving out a lot, but I think you get the picture.
Alamut: a year ago today (14.02.99).
The goal, of course, is to experience everything just as it is, without judgement, without drama...
Dharma Month - Dharma Year
Since the lion's share of my present attention is focused on trying to 'relax into' my present existential position (which could be dramatically expressed as: 'severe free fall'), I'm surprised by the moments when I find myself thinking about my work and wondering whether or not I could incorporate what I am learning into my plans for my upcoming projects. What does the dharma offer my own art?
For me, this is quite a question. How can I introduce moment-to-moment acceptance of uncertainty, change and death into an oeuvre which has been dedicated to exploring immortality, and immortality's consequences for the identity of the body and the mind? How can I reconcile the 'noble truth'* that suffering is a consequence of our 'desire for security' with the construction of 'safe havens' and other forms of cultural defense?
Is it possible to reconcile a concern with buddhism with an interest in transhumanism? A rather radical shift in my personal philosophy with my continuing professional interests?
On the other hand, I wonder whether the dissonance is so extreme? Is the motto, 'Take me away from all this death' so very different from the motto, 'Embracing change with all four arms'? I guess it all depends on what one means by death. Stasis is death. Sureity is death too.
I have two projects on my event horizon. For the first (an exhibition this September in Leeuwarden, the capital of one of the Dutch provinces) I'd planned to either ammend a law or introduce a new law to the city's bylaws (using the official political process) such that a particular public space will be altered in some way. The idea is that the change to the space would emerge from the application of the new rule. This project is certainly consistent with the dharma. In fact the dharma opens up a lot of interesting possibilities.
The second project is a lot bigger and in my mind still pretty open in terms of where it could go. It involves a large energy company, a doctoral thesis, hermeneutics, notions of sustainability and the growing worldwide community of 'green' energy users with its various advocates and detractors. At the moment I'm thinking about developing a framework for a 'common calender,' a temporal map which would take its shape from the various parties participating in the dialogue, marking their important holidays and milestones. The whole project would be persistent and set up for the very, very long term.
Ideas about how such a 'common calender' project would or would not be consistent with either buddhism or transhumanism are welcome.
"Now this, monks, is the noble truth of stress: Birth is stressful, aging is stressful, death is stressful; sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, & despair are stressful; association with the unbeloved is stressful, separation from the loved is stressful, not getting what is wanted is stressful. In short, the five aggregates of clinging/sustenance are stressful."
Let's not waste.
Follow up to Alamut (23.03.98): -- "An ontogroup is a group or community that agrees on a similar 'modeling schema' or ontology." Two years later I'm still wondering how formal that agreement need be and how necessarily similar is 'similar'...
I wonder, for example, whether the set of websites that conform with the HTML 3.2 specification could be said to constitute an ontogroup? Or whether we can think of the 500+ weblogs listed on the Eatonweb portal as a ontogroup? Or whether my awareness of the similarities between Alamut, NQPAOFU, Calamondin, Geegaw, Synthetic Zero, Bovine Inversus, David Chess, Abada Abada, Subterranean Notes and the Hotsy Totsy Club is enough to declare ontogroup status for these 10 sites?
Q: How do members of an ontogroup acquire knowledge?
A: An ontogroup shares common subjects, common methodologies and related points of view. An ontogroup shares and reuses its knowledge.
Q: How do the members of an ontogroup produce knowledge?
A: Perception, selection, organization, classification, system-creation -- an ontogroup shares its methods to create new maps, shares its ways to bring new territories into being.
There seems to be a difference between 'collaborative scouting and filtering' and the idea of 'ontogrouping.' The former may be more 'bottom up' than the latter -- but I could be wrong about this. (I like the mutual recognition and respect suggested by the noun 'ontogroup' and the informal process suggested by the verb 'collaborative filtering.')
The neologism 'ontogroup' is endangered. Searching this morning for evidence of its existence, Google returned no hits at all and Fast Search returned only 8 references -- 4 from Alamut and 1 from NQPAOFU, the other 3 from more serious sources:
"Therefore, we used the metaphor of a newsgroup: a group of people that share a common subject and a related point of view on this subject. This allows people -- we call them an ontogroup -- to annotate their web pages based on a shared ontology (2) to enable automatic inference."
"Ontologies are discussed in the literature as a means to support knowledge sharing and reuse. This approach to reuse is based on the assumption that if a modelling scheme -- i.e. an ontology -- is explicitly specified and agreed upon by a number of agents, it is then possible for them to share and reuse knowledge."
"... In contrast, Ontobroker relies on the notion of an ontogroup defining a group of Web users who agree on an ontology for a given subject. Therefore, both the information providers and the clients have complete knowledge of the available ontological terms."
"[Fensel et al., 1997] sketch out the idea of an ontogroup . Like a news groups, it is based on a group of people who are joined by a common interest and some agreement as to how to look at their topic. An ontology can be used by such a group to express this common ground and to annotate their information documents."
Nothing doing takes a great deal of practice.
(Some people, links, and pull quotes that Jack Kerouac never heard of, clicked on, or had a chance to read...)
Dharma Bums II
Feeling a bit overloaded today. Must learn to go easy on the 'nothing doing' practice. More tomorrow.
"O nobly-born, whatever fearful and terrifying visions thou mayest see, recognize them to be thine own thought-forms."
"O nobly-born, there will dawn from the east the Black-Haired Rushing to the Finish-Line Demon..."
"O nobly-born, by not recognizing now, and by fleeing from this demon out of fear, again sufferings will come to overpower thee."
(J. G. Posada & W. Y. Evans-Wentz, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, 1927.)
I wasn't planning to go but I went: -- I left my studio, took the train to the Hague C.S., walked to the Royal Academy, paid 65 guilders, and allowed myself to be submersed in a day long conference on information design (infoArcadia). I had enough to think about but I let myself be inundated. I took the plunge. Information and people. What else is it (or are they) good for?
The people were the art crowd. Friends. JK was there. So was Jorinde, Joke, Ronald, Jan, Maarten and others. Everyone was saying, 'Hello!' Everyone was asking, 'How you doing?'
The people were the speakers: Matt Mullican, Ingeborg Lüscher, Alan Murray, Bert Mulder and Glorianna Davenport. Each with their own infoArcadias and ideas about infoArcadias, some old, some new.
The inundation: I certainly was inundated (and impressed) by Matt Mullican's slightly autistic presence and presentation. I've never had the opportunity to see him do his lecture before. His story consisted of his relating his antecedents and reasons for his personal cosmography and, I must say, it was completely air tight -- he represented his childhood experiences, his period as a student at Cal Arts, his encounter with 'the cadaver', his performances of entering heaven and hell. Under his direction each representation became grist for his private abstraction mill -- tokens for the map of his own territory.
The inundation: listening to anecdotes about Armand Schulthess and the private encyclopedia that he created in the forest surrounding his house in Switzerland. A memory theatre in a rough physical landscape. Art Brut. Schulthess' work started to die when he died in the early 70's -- the entries to his encyclopedia were published on tin cans and nailed to trees inundated with acid rain -- all rusted now, all gone. His work is not documented online. (Google search) I wonder if Schulthess was alive today whether or not he would have been able to escape our collective (net) attention? I doubt it. We would have certainly saved him.
The inundation: Bert Mulder speaks about the information architecture of digital democracies. His own infoArcadia. Bert is brilliant and his talks always contain a few interesting trojan horses. Nightmares in disguise. Today he mentions the advance of ergonomics (physical, cognitive, emotional, spiritual) and then proceeds to bring up issues such as the creation of a user's 'decision' profile and its role in the digital democracy. He asks, "If you didn't vote for building that new school in the neighborhood, should you be able to use it?" then he smiles and carries on to his next point.
But the question remains and could be elaborated. Try to imagine the ability to view a complete history of your decisions, your inconsistencies, your fickleness, your hypocriscy. Could you take it? Is such a view of yourself ergonomic? What would happen to you, to your experience of 'self,' to your sense of solidity and righteousness, to your feeling of personal identity, if confronted with such a history? Now picture being able to see the decision histories of others. What would happen to our families, our communities, our society if we were all privy to such information?
Thoughts after the Flood
Carl Hollywood Visits Mrs. Kwan's Teahouse
"Do you not see how necessary a world of pains and troubles is to school an intelligence and make it a soul?"
-- John Keats
For some strange reason the image of Carl Hollywood sipping tea while working into the night on his sheets of foolscap -- a passage from Neal Stephenson's novel, The Diamand Age -- has remained in my head long after I've forgotten almost everything else from Mr. Stephenson's narrative. Perhaps I remember it because it describes something that I, and I think many others, secretly yearn for: the space and time and tools to one day make sense of 'it all.' In the story, Carl Hollywood has temporarily secured a peaceful spot in the center of his own infoArcadia; some space and time to sit and contemplate the data, to work out the pieces of the puzzle that lies before him:
"... Then he returned once more to the streets, shouldering for a mile through the crowd until he reached a teahouse where he had passed many long nights during his tenure at the Parnasse. Old Mrs. Kwan welcomed him warmly, bowing many times and showing him to his favorite corner table where he could look out on the intersection of Nanjing Road and a narrow side street jammed with tiny market stalls...
"... He ordered a big pot of his favorite green tea... ...and spread his sheets of foolscap across the table. This teahouse was fully integrated into the worldwide media network, and so the pages automatically jacked themselves in. Under Carl Hollywood's murmured commands they began to fill themselves with columns of animated text and windows bearing images and cine feeds. He took his first sip of tea -- always the best one -- withdrew his big fountain pen from his pocket, removed the lid, and touched it to the paper. He began to inscribe commands onto the page, in words and drawings. As he finished the words, they were enacted before him, and as he drew the lines between the boxes and circles, links were made and information flowed.
"At the bottom of the page he wrote the word MIRANDA and drew a circle around it. It was not connected to anything else in the diagram yet. He hoped that before long it would be. Carl Hollywood worked on his papers late into the night, and Mrs. Kwan continued to replenish his teapot and bring him little sweets and decorated the edge of his table with candles as night fell and the teahouse darkened, for she remembered that he liked to work by candlelight. The Chinese people outside, separated from him by half an inch of crossslinked diamond watched with their noses making white ellipses against the pane, their faces glowing in the candlelight like ripe peaches hanging in dark lush foliage."
InfoArcadia means space and time, pains and trouble, intelligence, a school, maybe even a smart school...
Link: Stroom's InfoArcadia exhibition.
What does the mission clock say, Walter?
The Effects of Pressure
"While breathing air at sea level, body tissues are equilibrated with dissolved nitrogen at a pressure equal to the partial pressure of nitrogen in the lungs. During exposures to altitude (low pressure) or in diving (high pressure), the partial pressure of nitrogen in the lungs will change and the tissues will either lose or gain nitrogen to reach a new equilibrium with the nitrogen pressure in the lungs. The taking up of nitrogen by the tissues is called absorption or uptake; giving up nitrogen from the tissues is termed elimination. In air diving, nitrogen absorption occurs when a diver is exposed to an increased nitrogen partial pressure, and elimination occurs when pressure decreases. This process occurs when any inert gas is breathed."
Link: Diving Physiology.
Breathe. Absorb and subsequently eliminate big buckets of air. Grab a new one and let it go again. And while you're at it make sure you stay in tune with your surroundings. Lots of pressure around? Become one with it. Be one with your environment. Breathe.
Compression and Decompression
Pressure gone? Feeling bad all of sudden? Hey, you need to relax. Take some time off. Take a vacation. Decompress. Sleep it off. Chill.
How much time will that take? That depends how deep you were and how long you were under. What's a good ratio? Proust used 20 - 80. For every 20 minutes he spent in uptake he needed to spend 80 minutes decompressing in his cork-lined bedroom. That's it man, I'm with him. What about me? I don't know man. I'd say you should wait here until it stops hurting.
My Language is Interested in Yours
JK writes about a dry river bed in Ahmedabad India:
"... and a multitude of life forms and cultural expressions are hosted, like the Sunday Market."
And I finally realise that 'hosted' is the same thing as afforded. Thus the door knob not only affords my grasping hand but hosts it, just as these words are now hosting your curiosity and attention.
The affordances of an object or an environment are not simply the sum of its physical properties (see Gibson). An inventory of an object's or an environment's affordances would have to include all of the living organisms which could possibly make use of its features. The same is true when thinking about a host. Hosting means including all the possibilities and propensities of the host's possible guests. While the words you are now reading could easily represent many things they could never, for example, host (as a reader) a dog or a goldfish. But as dark spots on your bright computer screen they might easily offer-host-afford a tired fairyfly wasp some shade.
(A fairyfly wasp is so small that it can apparently fly through the eye of an average needle. Who would have thought that the eye of a needle could host that?)
Alamut (17.04.99): The Very Large and the Very Small.
More notes and quotes on learning, drama and change.
Learning by Linking
It is remarkable how much we can actually learn simply by linking, by creating paths or trails to sites that we don't have the time or energy or knowledge to completely explore for ourselves. The truth is that we never have enough time or energy or knowledge to travel in all the different directions and dimensions that we want to go. So we create trails for later, trails that others can follow.
Occasionally one of our trails, in the hands of another hunter, becomes an arrow. The other hunter sees something that we didn't see, fires the arrow and strikes a magnificent animal. Mortally wounded the great beast collapses in the snow. The other hunter is pleased -- the trophy is large enough to provide days of food (for thought). Pulling out her sharpest knife she immediately removes what she needs and leaves the remainder behind for her friends -- as a gift.
'Learning by linking' is a very handy way of gaining knowledge and a worthy addition to our repertoire of learning (hunting) strategies. Its success requires that we often return to our own trails, that we know who the other members of our hunting party are, and that we watch their trails very carefully.
The Dynamics of Drama
A fine example of learning by linking:-- On the 28th of January I linked to Nigel Howard's Drama Theory pages. On the 4th of February Ray Davies returned the favor by publishing on Hotsy-Totsy a remarkable passage from Howard's book on the desirability of less than perfect conflict resolution:
"Thus an agreement may require constant reassurance and work at maintaining relationships to prevent breakdown. This, however, depends on the imperfectness of the conflict resolution obtained. It requires characters not to be quite sure of the common, conflict-free model to which they've converged. If they were sure of it, and it exhibited complete resolution, they'd have no need to bother about each others' feelings."
Another example of learning by linking:-- On the 26th of January I once again referred to Gregory Bateson's concept of 'schismogenesis.' A day later Mitsu Hadeishi, the proprietor of Synthetic Zero, picked this up and wrote some very interesting commentary on the dynamics of attraction and repulsion. He also linked to an article by one Jeffrey Bloom which discusses schismogenesis as a factor in understanding the patterns of learning.
"... This middle ground, which Bateson called "reciprocal", tends towards optimization rather than either divergence or domination. Like complementary interactions, understanding is built up into more and more sophisticated forms, but my feeling is that this sort of process would tend towards results which accommodate and incorporate the most forces and factors, and lead to the most surprising and interesting results in the long run..."
Alamut (drama classification): George Polti's 36 Dramatic Situations.
*Dharma month note to myself: If I must have drama I feel I should understand its patterns and dynamics. But I'd prefer not having drama. At least not the sort of unnecessary drama that requires this kind of understanding to negotiate.
The Dynamics of Change
Change is an 'external' rather than an 'internal' phenomenon. Change happens between entities rather than 'inside' them. Relations change between entities when something new is collected or something old is thrown away.
From George Kubler's 'The Shape of Time: Remarks on the History of Things' (1962):
"Change is occasioned by the many ways in which entities join and separate. Actuality concerns their instantaneous arrangement, and history treats of their successive positions and relationships. The different positions of human entities suggest a category of forces for which we have no other name than needs. Discard and retention belong with other processes to this field of forces -- a field where appetite and repletion, pleasure and revulsion, are the poles.
"The decision to discard something is far from being a simple decision. Like each fundamental type of action, it appears in the experience of the every day. It is a reversal of values. Though the thing once was necessary, discarded it becomes litter or scrap. What once was valuable now is worthless: the desirable now offends; the beautiful now is seen as ugly. When to discard and what to discard are questions to which the answers are governed by many considerations."
Alamut (1.9.99): Preservation vs. Disposal
From the Alamut archive: Robert Smithson on the pleasures of waste and the absurdity of recycling.
*Note to myself: find time to read Kevin Lynch's book, 'Wasting Away: An Exploration of Waste, What it is, How it Happens, Why we Fear it, How to do it Well.'
Trading: Holding On and Letting Go
I was at the art school in Groningen yesterday to do a 'McLuhan Seminar' with a group of media students. The theme this time was 'Money as a Medium,' with the relevant chapter of 'Understanding Media' providing the starting point for our discussion. Everyone was asked beforehand to read the chapter and isolate a few ideas or metaphors which they found personally compelling. I followed my own instructions -- and was delighted by the following passage:
"Trading by currency is based on the principle of grasping and letting go in an oscillating cycle. The one hand retains the article with which it tempts the other party. The other hand is extended in demand towards the object which is desired in exchange. The first hand lets go as soon as the second object is touched, somewhat in the manner of a trapeze artist exchanging one bar for the other. In fact Elias Canetti in 'Crowds and Power' argues that the trader is involved in one of the most ancient of all pastimes, namely that of climbing trees and swinging from limb to limb.
"The primitive grasping, calculating, and timing of the greater arboreal apes he sees as a translation into financial terms of one of the oldest movement patterns. Just as the hand among the branches of the trees learned a pattern of grasping that was quite removed from the moving of food to mouth, so the trader and the financier have developed enthralling abstract activities that are extensions of the avid climbing and mobility of the greater apes."
Many, many, many generations...
The net's epic (trans-generational) art will make good use of deep narrative. In 1997 Young and Rubicam produced a television commercial for the Ford Puma which featured the actor Steve McQueen and was modelled after the famous car chase scene from his 1968 film Bullit. For the viewer at home the commercial's power and uncanny effect increased with the knowledge that (when it was made) Steve McQueen had been dead for 17 years. Deep narrative usually means dead actors.
Proposal: As technology advances it is going to offer us more and more opportunity to fold and 'incorporate' our personal and cultural past into our present experience. Instead of simply 'replaying' our recorded past, such as we do now when reading, looking at historical art or replaying the videos our parents made of us as children, it will be quite possible for the past to walk once more amongst us, materialized, spilling our milk and kicking ass.
Question: What will this afford us as human beings? Will this affordance help us or hinder us? Will we suffer more? Be more consoled? Be more aware of the patterns in our lives?
'Tulku' is the Tibetan word for a reincarnated lama. According to the Tibetans, tulkus are 'enlightened' individuals who (continue to) choose to be reborn in order to help others and further the buddhist cause. It usually works like this: a dying lama will announce that he is planning to return to life and give some indication of where and when he intends to be reborn. A year or more after his death a 'hunting party' will set out to search for the lama's 'new body.' When the new body is found it is trained and reinstated in the lama's past position, usually as the head of a school or monastery.
Book: 'Testimonies of Tibetan Tulkus: A Research among Reincarnate Buddhist Masters in Exile' by Daniel Bärlocher, Opuscula Tibetana, Rikon-Zurich, August 1982.
"This is the kind of analogy that's given of the hungry ghost, the yidag. The yidag is a being with a huge mouth and a very thin neck. It can get a hell of a lot into its mouth but it can't swallow anything. Whatever it sees looks good, so it eats it...
"... I nickname yidags 'intellectuals' because that's what intellectuals do - they gorge themselves on information and then regurgitate it all over each other."
from: Ngak'chang Rinpoche, The Six Realms
The Stuff of Memory
Matthew Coolidge, from the The Center for Land Use Interpretation gave a talk at Witte de With in Rotterdam yesterday afternoon. I attended and was rewarded for my effort by two, rather curious, pieces of information which I would like to share with you.
Being thirsty when the talk was over, I drank a hot chocolate in a café. As I walked home I tried to feel the pavement through the soles of my shoes.
Nice day to be born, get married, or end a big war...
Transparent Society Issues
Your weblog in XML? Why not if it simplifies your life?
"If I knew what you've made during the year, if I knew what your withholding is, if I knew what your spending pattern is, I should be able to generate for you a tax return. I am an excellent advocate of return-free filing. We know everything about you that we need to know. Your employer tells us everything about you that we need to know. Your activity records on your credit cards tell us everything about you that we need to know. Through interface with Social Security, with the DMV, with your banking institutions, we really have a lot of information ... We could literally file a return for you. This is the future we'd like to go to."
IRS Document Processing System project manager Coleta Brueck at the Computer Press Awards speech, April 15, 1994, reported in Steve Deitz's essay, Public and Private in the Age of Dataveillance.
IRS future reference: [Last night I met with Jente at the Hotel New York for a business meeting. We discussed the state of our worlds. We also enjoyed an excellent dinner of salmon and mussels. Total bill: Hfl 73.75]
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